How Bruce Springsteen Gave Me My First Tattoo
When I look down on my arm, I still can’t believe this happened! September has been a very transformative month for me, and a big reason for it is Bruce Springsteen himself.
I don’t know why it’s taken me so long to recount my trip to NYC. It all happened so fast. Mostly one phrase comes to mind: it was a dream. Not the hazy kind, but the too good to be true kind. If magic is real and miracles exist, this is it kind. The kind where everything seems to fall into places the way it should; the way you hope it would.
Let me elaborate…
We were going to see Springsteen on Broadway. My sister Georgia and I coordinated this scheme together. We weren’t the lucky fans to get through Ticketmaster's Verified Fan system, but the ones to go the lengths of a StubHub price (financially and emotionally). It was going to be worth it. There's no way I'd be able to live knowing I'd miss this show. I just couldn't stomach the thought.
Our trip began Monday, September 3rd at precisely 3:40 AM, but I was too anxious to notice how early it really was. Airports stress me out as much as they excite me.
Everything was going well, but when we finally touched ground in LaGuardia Airport, the heel on Georgia’s boot broke. I had a bad feeling this was the beginning of a string of bad luck. We must have been a pretty scrappy sight, looking a lot younger than we are and one of us walking through the city in socks.
We checked into our hotel, and our receptionist warmly greeted us and even upgraded us to a room with a view. Maybe he felt sorry for my sister having no shoes. After settling in, we walked to the nearest Salvation Army and she found a new pair of boots. Maybe our luck was going to turn around…
Our only goal that evening was to get our tickets from the StubHub building. We walked down Times Square, which was where our hotel was located. My initial impression was that its glitzier in the movies, but I kind of expected that. We didn't really plan to do any sightseeing because we weren't staying in the city for long, but just walking down a few blocks did enough for me. The tourists, the hurried New Yorkers in suits, the people in costumes, the cigarette butts, and trash.
By the time we got our tickets it was already getting late. First day down.
We headed down to the Walter Kerr Theatre around 11 in the afternoon. We were the first ones there. We spread our coats on the concrete by the stage door and established our territory. It was still cool and felt like morning outside. We people-watched and they watched us. It was amusing to see onlookers snickering, shaking their heads, you could read their lips saying “they’re waiting for Bruce.” Yeah, we were.
Later we were greeted by a woman named Rose, a certified “Spring-Nut.” She was very sweet, we talked about Bruce for a while, exchanging stories and excitement. She gave us some of her burger and fries and more women joined us. They were all friendly and conversational, cautioning us of the pushing and shoving that could happen when Bruce arrives. We all agreed to look out for each other.
I had a letter I’d written to give to Bruce. After spending weeks thinking about what I wanted to tell him, I finally got it into written words on the plane ride to NYC. Now I can’t help but think about so many more things I want to tell him. I never thought I would have the chance to tell him how much his work has done for me. He’s probably heard that from many fans over the years, but that’s kind of the whole point, right? Still, I wanted to personalize my testimony in some fashion. So I tried as best I could. That’s all I’m going to share about my letter.
I had another plan too. Now, I didn’t bring any of my favorite records or my copy of Born to Run, but I was going to get something signed. After finishing Woody Guthrie’s semi-fictional autobiography, Bound for Glory, I’ve been wanting to get that title tattooed on me. Then it clicked.
I would be lying if I said I discovered Woody on my own, even though like every other American kid I grew up singing “This Land is Your Land.” But it was Bruce who introduced me not only to Woody but to an insight and recount of American history I was never afforded in school.
It’s not that Bruce provided me with all the answers to these big questions, but he posed me to ask the right questions. The kind that steers your heart to make sense of the world around you. That brings to light the importance of community and empathy and the vital transcendence from tolerance to acceptance. (Bruce wasn’t lying when he said “we learned more from a 3-minute record…”) So my goal was to ask Bruce to write “Bound for Glory” on my arm, and I was dead set on it.
More people were gathering and it started getting hotter. I was literally sweating! It was nearly 100 degrees outside. We took turns guarding our place as one of us went to buy water at the nearby coffee shop. This very kind stranger must've seen our suffering, as he approached my sister and me and said, “take this.” He handed us his umbrella. It was no doubt now that our luck was growing.
Finally, the management began setting up the barriers along the stage door. It wouldn’t be long now for Bruce to arrive. By now I looked pretty busted, I was sweaty and my curls were losing volume… Rough. But it was too late now to get discouraged.
Two guys the “Spring-nuts” warned us about stood behind me. It was making me anxious, I was worried if it got too pushy and rowdy Bruce would avoid our section completely. When Bruce’s vehicle pulled up, I immediately turned to them and told them to not get in my way. Looking back on it, the way I reacted is laughable, but at that moment I wasn’t going to let anyone ruin my chance. I had been standing there all day for this, I wasn't going to let two guys who just showed up take it from me.
When Bruce approached us, I felt weak in the knees, just like I did when I was 17 and he strutting down the aisle during “Tenth Avenue Freeze Out.” I hate that I get like that! I feel like a little kid overwhelmed and antsy with anticipation. I stuck out my arm, he said, “where do you want it darlin'?” I told him about Woody and if he could write “Bound for Glory” (keep in mind I’m stuttering and probably look like a mess) and I could see his eyes widen behind his glasses as he said, “oh, really? I’ll try.” As he signed my arm, I felt choked up. I wanted to tell him everything, but I couldn’t. I didn’t know how!
Not to sound dramatic, but I was so excited that I literally don’t remember much else. When he finished, I handed him my letter. He smiled, looked me in the eyes, and said, “thanks, kid.” And just like that, it was over.
Now the real show was about to begin…
Stay tuned for a review of Springsteen on Broadway!